Overcrowding at Franklin Leads to Worry About More COVID-19 Outbreaks

Since reopening, Franklin High School students have been forced to push their way through crowded hallways to get to classes and sit in poorly-spaced classrooms. Franklin’s 2,000 students occupy a building that was only built for around 1,700 students. Because of these large  population numbers, the COVID-19 pandemic is a threat to our school. To counter this threat, the school is doing their best to minimize its effects.  “COVID is present in our city and affects our entire community,” says Franklin Business Manager Sonya Harvey. “PPS is tracking staff and students isolated due to COVID-19 infections and in quarantine due to close contacts with someone who is COVID-19 positive, [and] that information is shared through the COVID-19 Monitoring Dashboard.”

Franklin staff anticipated many of the challenges the building would create. “We were built knowing we were going to be over capacity soon after we came back, which is just one of the biggest heartbreaking things for me. We built a facility that doesn’t meet the needs,” says Mark Zimtbaum, a social studies teacher at Franklin. Many students and teachers reported feeling unsafe due to the overcrowding. “In the hallways, often times it is so packed in that I can’t see in front of me or behind me, and I see students with their masks not covering their nose on a regular basis, and that makes me feel unsafe in my school hallways,” says Franklin junior Avani Stevens-Rose. “If there were less students in the same building [I would feel safer],” she adds. Zimtbaum also reported feeling unsafe in the school. “I think I am going to get [COVID-19] given how many students we have, [and] the [inadequate] spacing,” says Zimtbaum. 

In addition to the COVID-19-related concerns, larger class sizes make it harder for teachers to teach, and for students to learn. Franklin photography teacher Carrie Berning has been forced to teach her classes at nearby school Atkinson Elementary. “[In past years] our photography room was in a science room, and because of the growth of our school, several new science teachers were hired, and they knew that that room needed to be converted back to a science room,” says Berning. “Room size was an issue because we have a lot of equipment, so it doesn’t work to have multiple photography rooms. And so part of the thing with Atkinson was that all of our equipment would be in one space, and we wouldn’t be having to move it from room to room to room.” Berning also brought up in the interview that there are too many teachers, and not enough classrooms. “Another drawback of having a school over capacity is that we cannot offer our teachers their own classrooms, [so] the majority of our teachers are currently sharing classrooms and some teachers share with up to three other teachers,” says Harvey.

Wearing masks is another way to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. “Hopefully everyone continues to do great with the masks. Students have been amazing with the masks, really. There are a few that are below the nose and need a little reminder, but that is just getting the air like we all kind of need sometimes. Personally I think it is just a matter of time [until I get COVID-19] unfortunately,” says Zimtbaum.

The size of the school has caused many changes to the operations of the school, but Harvey helps to reassure that they do not all have to be negative ones. “Students are the heart of Franklin. Franklin is a community that celebrates diversity and the number of students we have shows it,” she says. “I recognize that we are not in an ideal historical moment, we are still going through a pandemic but it is our permanent commitment to make all possible efforts so that all our students and staff feel safe and comfortable in our building,” Despite these benefits, being back in a crowded school may make some people feel unsafe, and there is no way to guarantee that no one will get COVID-19.

Wearing masks and frequent hand washing will help minimize the spread of the virus, as will getting vaccinated. 

Students walking through the crowded main 
hallway of Franklin High school. Because of 
how many students go to the school, social
distancing in the halls is impossible, making 
the COVID-19 risk significantly higher.
Photo by Ella Kauffman Smith

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